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Senate Heeds Voters’ Call to End Corruption and Passes Sweeping Reform Bill

Jan. 19, 2007

Senate Heeds Voters’ Call to End Corruption and Passes Sweeping Reform Bill

Statement of Joan Claybrook, President of Public Citizen

Lobbying and ethics reform took a tremendous step forward when the Senate on Thursday night brought back its reform bill from the grave. It followed the House’s lead and approved a sweeping measure, showing that the voters’ voices have been heard loud and clear on the need to clean up the way the people’s business is done on Capitol Hill.

The bill bans gifts from lobbyists and organizations that hire lobbyists, prohibits organizations that employ lobbyists from arranging or paying for congressional travel, with some exceptions, and requires members to pay full charter rates for flying on private corporate jets for officially connected and campaign trips.

It also requires disclosure of all lobbyist fundraising activity, including bundling, and prohibits lobbyists from hosting events that “honor” members of Congress, even at party conventions. The bill strengthens disclosure of stealth coalition lobbying and requires quarterly, electronic reporting of lobbying activity. It extends the revolving door prohibition from one year to two, includes “lobbying activity” in that two-year cooling off period, and prohibits spouses of members of Congress from lobbying, with small exceptions.

The Senate also addressed the abuse of earmarks by banning lawmakers from requesting those earmarks that benefit the member’s immediate family. The bill requires extensive earmark disclosure for federal agencies as well as earmarks to private parties and mandates that earmarks be posted on the sponsoring members’ Web pages.

We are very disappointed by two missed chances for needed reform that are lacking in this bill. By a vote of 43-55, the Senate voted to strip from the bill a provision for increased disclosure for industry front groups and others that hire lobbyists or any vendors that conduct “Astroturf” lobbying for which they spend at least $25,000 in a quarter. The following Democratic senators crossed lines to vote for this: Mary Landrieu (La.), Max Baucus (Mont.), Evan Bayh (Ind.), Ken Salazer (Colo.), Ben Nelson (Neb.), Byron Dorgan (N.D.) and Kent Conrad (N.D.). The Senate also voted against the creation of an Office of Public Integrity but agreed to debate it at a later time to coincide with the House study committee.

Overall, this bill continues the momentum for real change. Next, the House must vote on a similar bill and the president must sign the final product for these Senate changes to take effect. Voters will be eagerly watching to make sure both houses make good on their promises and that the White House also heeds the voters’ call.